Cholecystitis is inflammation of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ which lies just below the liver. The gallbladder stores bile, a digestive fluid that is sent from the liver. Most cases of cholecystitis are caused by gallstones. Gallstones are crystalline structures that develop in the gallbladder or the bile ducts and can interfere with the normal flow of bile leading to inflammation. Other less common causes include injury to the gallbladder due to trauma or surgery, infection or tumours.

Cholecystitis can be chronic (ongoing) or acute (sudden). Symptoms vary but will often occur after eating fatty meals and may occur at night awaking one from sleep. Common complaints include:

  • Abdominal pain in the upper right quadrant that increases rapidly and lasts from 30 minutes to several hours
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Indigestion, flatulence and belching
  • Pain in the back between the shoulder blades
  • Low grade fever
  • Intolerance to fatty foods

Your risk of developing gallstones and subsequently cholecystitis increases if you are a woman, over the age of 60, obese, diabetic or have liver disease or pancreatitis.

To diagnose cholecystitis, your physician will review your history and perform a physical examination. Imaging tests such as an ultrasound or a HIDA scan may be performed. Blood tests may be performed to look for signs of infection, obstruction, pancreatitis, or jaundice.

Initial treatment for cholecystitis includes bowel rest, medications to control pain and inflammation and antibiotics in case of infection. Cholecystitis is usually treated by surgical removal of the gallbladder. This is commonly performed using a minimally invasive technique called laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Gallbladder removal is safe and does not cause any nutritional deficiencies.